Friday, July 12, 2019

Dear Apartment, We'll Miss You

This was the photo of us that we used on our initial offer letter to the seller of our new house.  Wes dug it up from one of our Fourth of July family barbecues that we hosted, a Wong/Chiu family tradition that we started right here in our apartment.  We thought that this picture, if not a little silly, captured us for who we were, and showed the seller that we would use and love the house well.  I think it worked!

Now with the big move (and major "adulting") on the horizon, it is with a bittersweet sentiment that I write this ode to our first home.  With every change comes mixed emotions.  Moving out is sad, but we are so thankful to this apartment for everything that it had been for us, and looking forward to what's next.


Saturday, June 15, 2019

Niseko: A Snowboarding Foodie's Dream Come True

We say that we went to Hokkaido to snowboard on our Ikon Pass, but we really just needed an excuse to go to Japan to eat the amazing food there.  Hokkaido may be detached from the main island and over 500 miles away from Tokyo, but the high standards for food here are no different.  The pride that the chefs, bakers, and bartenders take in their work is reflected every step of the way, from conception to execution.  For five full days, we enjoyed so much good food in between rounds of shredding the tree-lined slopes of the Niseko United ski area.  

Niseko is a small resort town on the huge island of Hokkaido.  While the area is indeed relegated to a lot of international tourism because of its popular ski resort, we were able to pick out some great authentic spots to eat, drink, and be merry.  The food of Hokkaido is, like most Japanese food, impeccable and at the same time, very comforting and nutritious--exactly the kind of stuff you'd crave after a day on the slopes.  There's nothing like unclipping your snowboard and sitting down to a big bowl of ramen or chirashi.  Local markets a few shuttle stops away in nearby Kutchan offer delicacies that are Hokkaido-renowned: hairy crab, sashimi, artisan cheese, and even those mysterious white strawberries.  A famous milk farm not far away churns out fresh dairy products, including ice cream and drinking yogurt.  We followed in Anthony Bourdain's footsteps to eat handmade soba noodles at a Michelin-recognized restaurant.  We also found our way to working-class comforts, like chanko hotpot tenderly prepared by a retired Sumo wrestler and his wife, and steaming bowls of oden served late at night over a bar by a lone cook.  Even the little coffeeshop and the bar that we stepped into were both uniquely curated by passionate owners, and supported by a diverse local community.  We enjoyed every one of these eating and drinking experiences because they brought us closer to the people who live there.  Essentially, we went to Niseko for the snow, but we stayed for the culture.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Tour Du Mont Blanc Self-Guided Trek: Survival Tips & Recap

If you have an insatiable appetite for mountain views, the energy and willpower to trek for 100 miles, and a passion for great food, the Tour du Mont Blanc is for you!  The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is the name of the 105-mile loop trek (or, "tour") that circumvents the Mont Blanc group of mountains in the Graian Alps, which is a section in the western part of the Alps that dips in and out of three countries: France, Italy, and Switzerland (specifically, between the regions of Aosta Valley, Italy, and Savoie and Haute-Savoie, France).  This is a highly variegated geographical area that has around 400 summits and more than 40 glaciers, carved out by 7 distinct swooping valleys.  The accumulated elevation gain over the course of the trek is something like 32,000 feet, with an equally large elevation loss, and 10 or 11 passes to cross as the trek progresses from one valley to the next.  This trek was something that we wanted to do for the challenge, the food, the alpine views, and the multiculturalism. Our expectations were surpassed in all categories.

The thing that was most unnerving to us was venturing into the unknown on our own.  We researched as much as possible, but we still had no idea what it would all be like since we weren't going with an expert guide or an organized group.  Physically, the trek was demanding, but combining that with being on our own and not knowing what the trail conditions would be like was another beast to defeat.  Did I also mention that we also each have our share of joint issues? To be honest, though, that pesky patellar subluxation and threatening ankle tendonitis were far less of an obstacle than the volatility of the weather.  Fortunately, we totally lucked out with the weather, but we felt like we were gambling every day!  The upsides to DIY-ing this thing outweighed our insecurities, though.  Significantly lower costs, the freedom to go at our own pace, getting to stay where we wanted, and stopping to eat as much and as often as we wanted--that's how we wanted to roll.

We were exhausted and dripping in sweat by the end of each day.  But, much to our surprise, the ten days flew by.  Our packs felt lighter and lighter by the day, and there was more pep in each step, even as we approached those long, rocky descents.  Going through the three different countries and various types of terrain kept us on our toes mentally, and we never knew what to expect visually after cresting a hill or rounding a bend.  Socially, we were also constantly meeting fun fellow humans, who mostly were doing the trek on their own as well.  This trek has so many amazing things to offer, though what I can say for sure is that being prepared is the best way to guarantee a safe, and fun self-guided experience.

Like most, we had a lot of questions and uncertainty going into it, so I thought it would be good to put together a post like this to clear some things up that we hadn't known going in.  It's also another excuse to take a walk down memory lane!  I also wrote up little 3-sentence snapshots of each of the 10 days for a little taste of how it all went, before you go and tediously read all of the actual posts from each day.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

TMB Day 10: Argentière to La Flégère

Day Ten
July 26, 2018

Starting point: Argentière, France
Ending point: La Flégère, France
Distance: 6 miles
Height gain: 3747 feet
High point: Lac Blanc (7716 feet)
Lunch: Picnic at Lac Blanc
Accommodation: Hotel de l'Arve, Chamonix

Friday, March 29, 2019

TMB Day 9: Trient to Argentière

Day Nine
July 25, 2018

Starting point: Trient, Switzerland
Ending point: Argentière, France
Distance: 10 miles
Height gain: 3241 feet
High point: Col de Balme (7188 feet)
Lunch: Le Fournil Chamoniard Bakery, in Argentière
Accommodation: Hotel de la Couronne

Happy 3rd Anniversary to us!  We were officially married for three years on this day, and going on this trek has been the best way to celebrate.  So, we spoiled ourselves and booked an actual hotel, had dinner at an actual restaurant, and decided not to rush this stage.  Honestly, this was the least eventful day on the trail because it rained (finally).  We made it surprisingly quickly to the Col de Balme before the rain and got a peek of Mont Blanc, rising directly in front of us into the clouds.  Then, we walked down into civilization, bypassed the village of Le Tour, and strolled into Argentière, a charming village that does not get a lot of traffic and therefore retains a lot of authentic French charm.  It's usually busier in the winter due to skiing, but we weren't complaining about the peace and quiet.  We indulged at the bakery, checked out the little market, hung our laundry in the window of our fourth story room, ate classic French food with an American twist for dinner, and went off to bed!  All in all, a chill day back in France.